The day was sullen, the sun cold, shaded gray behind the clouds, the air biting my skin. In front of me a tree, dead and gray, waiting for its spring revival. My friends, my coworkers, my brothers. It was where they smoked their cancer and passed the word on. The broken black tar picnic table, where the filtered ends of short flax sticks always lay scattered, was moved. An outline of ash in its usual place. It was now on the grass closer to the tree, to that one branch close enough to the ground that you could almost touch it, but not quite. I stepped up on the table, eyeing the new nylon rope hanging from the branch, knotted in the way seen in old westerns. It wasn’t my noose, I didn’t tie its knot; the one who did was sobering up in my room. I cut it down, that snare born of alcohol, putting it in the trash that the smokers pretended didn’t exist. They would be out soon, rising from their beds scratching the crust from their eyes, curious why their hangout had been tampered with. Not curious as to how someone could get their hands on ten feet of thick nylon rope at three in the morning, not curious as to how they could sneak it into a barracks past one door, three doors, seven doors, twenty doors all the way to the end of the hall without someone asking what it was for, and then all the way back with bottle in hand. The first of them yawned their way past me, popping their paperboard packs and taking their places. I turned away from them, from their choked laughter, the ash, the rot. Away from a dead tree, surrounded by dying men.
Tyler J. Adams is currently a student at CCSU in Junior standing, studying English and creative writing. He served three years active duty as an infantryman in the Army and estimates that he has about 20,440 more days to live. He does not believe in happy endings.
Originally published in the FALL 2018 edition of the Helix.